Posted by: Viola | September 30, 2014

Children, Adults, and Awareness

I am so passionate about this topic that it is bursting through me, and I can barely keep it within me or near me. I feel such a fire and a light for this that it must have it’s way with me. So here it goes.

We must as adults be careful about the way we teach children. The way we talk to children. The way we speak to children about themselves and about others. The kind of language we use must be something we are fully aware of. We must speak and act with awareness. We must. We must. We must. Children are learning from us all the time. Even when we think they couldn’t possibly be. They are watching us closely. And listening.

If I had a dollar for every time I have witnessed an adult tell a child something absolutely hurtful, I would be a millionaire by now. I would be so rich, filthy rich. If I had gold and diamonds and crystals for every encounter I have been privy to in which a child’s unique qualities are torn down by an adult, I would be a ship as massive as the Titanic and loaded with sparkling treasures. If I had plots of land handed to me for every time I have seen children echo the negative messages they have soaked up from adults (and perhaps from their peers, other kids), then I would be a continent as giant and radiant as Africa.

Adults, adults, adults. Listen. When we talk to a child and shame him for something that child cannot change about himself, we are creating a sense of frustration in that child. When we joke about a child’s features, the very things that child was born with and cannot erase, we are creating in that child a sense of anger. When we tell a child that she is different and because of that we find her funny and hilarious, we are telling that child that what makes her stand out is not something we take seriously. We take that child’s potential talent or gift and turn it into comedy.

Shame and ridicule are forms of training children for so many cultures and communities across the globe. For many, these methods are also seen as ways of loving. I can understand that. I can appreciate that. But my questions are: is this the only way? is this the best way? what effect does this have on children?

When children then grow up to practice the very same shame tactics and ridiculing that they once experienced, what can we draw from this but the conclusion that the effects of childhood experiences are profound. When children become the ones to implement age-old jokes and stereotypes, we adults have to ask ourselves some very hard questions.

Where have we gone wrong? Why did we not catch ourselves and our words before we spoke them to our kids? What example did we model for our kids, or for all the kids around us? And what did we do to correct adults around us when they were saying things that may have been hurtful or inappropriate and offensive?

Why did we not take every chance we could get to encourage our children to view difference as something to embrace and appreciate–be it racial differences, ethnic differences, gender differences, sexual orientation differences, artistic/creative difference? Why did we not explain to our kids the ways in which people are hurt when differences are routinely mocked or ridiculed?

If I had a dollar for every time I was mocked as a child, I’d be set for life. I would have a fat bank account. If I had a portfolio of investments for every time I was told that literary pursuits were fruitless and artists useless, then I’d be the richest woman on earth and I’d never have a care in the world.

But I’d rather be poor and proud of what I do. I’d rather be poor and free from shame. I’d rather be poor and above the fray of ridicule. I’d rather be poor and taken seriously. I’d rather be poor and left alone to be true to what fuels me. I’d rather be poor and say to any child I meet:

Don’t ever stop valuing what fills your being with light and hope and sheer excitement, and remember that we simply were born to be different. No two people are the same. Embrace what makes you unique, as an individual. It could be the very thing that will save your life and allow you to do a lot of good in the world. Find that thing that lifts you up like nothing else does. The thing that lets you also lift humanity up. Set others free to find their joy. But always focus on your journey toward your own joy. Find that thing you love. Grab it with both hands. And never let it go. No matter how much the world shakes you.

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